Archive for October, 2006

“Is it better to turn a light on or leave it off?”

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Environmental Defense’s Dr. Bill tackles this reader question in a recent ED column:

This is a great question and one that each of us confronts every day. To some extent, the answer depends on the type of bulbs you’re using.

Traditional incandescent bulbs are so inefficient, that it really is better to turn them off when they are not needed, even if you’re leaving the room for only a few minutes.

However, with compact fluorescent blubs (CFLs) you can be a little more flexible. The amount of energy used to turn lights off and on again – the “inrush” – is typically equal to only a few seconds of normal light operation. So, technically, you’re saving energy by turning off CFLs.

But, CFLs are so energy efficient that you’re not wasting too much energy by leaving them on if you’re only stepping away for just a few minutes.

A common misperception is that it takes a lot of extra energy to turn on a CFL. This may seem true since some CFLs take a few minutes to “warm up” before they reach full brightness. Turning on a light does require additional energy; however, the bulb’s “warm up” period does not draw extra electricity.

Rule of thumb: If you know you’ll be away for more than a few minutes, you should make a habit of turning off your lights. And, regardless of your habits, you should buy CFLs and install them everywhere. The savings are enormous.

Voila! – a quick, easy way to REDUCE the amount of energy – not to mention the number of light bulbs – you burn through!

By the by, you can submit your own question to Dr. Bill here.

‘Reduce’ – The least popular of the 3 R’s?

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Although we focus on recycling and reusing items on KC Freecycle ™, reducing our consumption of stuff in the first place is the most effective means of helping the environment. That’s not to say that recycling and reusing aren’t important; rather, they shouldn’t necessarily be the only tools in our green toolkits.

Umbra Fisk breaks it down for her readers:

Cutting back on our consumption is central to the creation of anything close to a sustainable, closed-loop waste cycle. In the words of the U.S. EPA, “reduction actually prevents the generation of waste in the first place, so it is the most preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment.” […]

In fact, the EPA and Environment Canada agree that “reduce” is the most important of the Three R’s — even though recycle usually hogs the spotlight. Note to naysayers: that doesn’t mean recycling is unimportant. It means reduce, reuse, and recycle are all vital, because no matter how much we cut our consumption, we will still consume some things — and then have to figure out how to handle our waste. […]

Sadly, in this world of Nifty mops and Zippy sandwich containers and things that are made to break, it’s hard to convince people to buy — and therefore throw away — less stuff. But according to the EPA, more than 6,000 communities have “pay as you throw” programs that charge residents for each unit of trash they toss. And some industries have made progress. Remember those silly big cardboard boxes that CDs used to come in? And it seems that two-liter plastic bottles are 25 percent lighter today than they were 30 years ago. Small steps, but we’ll take them.

So what can you do? Write to companies whose products you admire but whose packaging gives you shivers. Buy in bulk. Buy products with little or no packaging. Make thoughtful shopping lists, based on need, to avoid snatching things up spontaneously at the store. Shun anything that’s marketed as handy, disposable, or one-time use in favor of more permanent solutions. And above all, don’t get caught up in the Stuff Race. In this case, less is truly more.

There you have it.

The next time your ‘wanted’ goes unanswered, and you start contemplating whether you should buy that new hot tub or exercise doodad, ask yourself if it’s really something you need. Or…will you just end up listing it on KC Freecycle in six months?